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Papyrocentric Performativity is a sub-site of Overlord of the Über-Feral, where further book-reviews are sometimes posted.


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A Big Book about BooksThe Penguin Classics Book, Henry Eliot (Penguin 2018)

Wrecks & Drugs & Rock & RollBodies: Life and Death in Music, Ian Winwood (Faber 2022)

In the Bland of the BlindAn Unexplained Death: The True Story of a Body at the Belvedere, Mikita Brottman (Canongate 2018)

Hu Thru MuThe Musical Human: A History of Life on Earth, Michael Spitzer (Bloomsbury 2021)

A Bit of EngLitThe Power of Delight: A Lifetime in Literature: Essays 1962-2002, John Bayley (Duckworth 2005)

Chrome TomeThe Secret Lives of Colour, Kassia St Clair (John Murray 2018)

Cannonball Corpse – AC/DC: The Story of the Original Monsters of Rock, Jerry Ewing (Carlton Books 2015)

Chimpathy for the Devil?Oasis: Supersonic: The Complete, Authorised and Uncut Interviews, curated by Simon Halfon (Nemperor 2021)

D for Deviant, K for Korpse…Doktor Deviant’s Diary of Depravity: Kandid Konfessions of a Kompulsive Korpse-Kopulator, ed. Dr David Kerekes and Samuel P. Salatta (Visceral Visions 2022)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

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The Penguin Classics Book, Henry Eliot (Penguin 2018)

“Twenty-five whores in the room next door,” sang the great Andrew Eldritch. “Twenty-five whores – and I need more.” I’m like that about books. In fact, I hope Andrew Eldritch is like that about books too. A goth icon who doesn’t love books isn’t much of a goth icon. I’m not a goth myself, but I’m goth-adjacent. My bibliophilia is one of the things that make me so.

Strangely enough, my BFF is more of a bibliophobe. She doesn’t like the way one corner of her house has begun to fill with books of mine. She cries “No!” when more appear, so I have to smuggle them in now. But I was caught when I brought this celebration of Penguin Classics round. “This isn’t just a book,” I confessed. “It’s a big book. And it isn’t just a big book: it’s a big book about books.”

“No!” she cried. She tells me I have enough books. I tell her that you can never have enough books. And this big book about books is full of more books that I’d like to own. It’s also got a lot of books I already own or have once owned. I recognize covers from decades ago. Or I wish that the editions I own now had the covers shown here. Penguin have used some beautiful art and photography on their books. Some bad or drab art, too. You can see both on various Penguin editions of Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians, for example. The cover from 1948 has a broad blue stripe at the top and a broad blue stripe at the bottom, with the title and author’s name on the broad white stripe in the middle. The cover from 1989 is good, though: it’s a full-color reproduction of a Victorian oil-painting of General Gordon facing death from the spears of the Mahdi’s army.

In this case, I recognized both covers because I own both editions. When I like a book, I like to read it in different editions and different languages. And Eminent Victorians is one of my favoritest books. This is what Henry Eliot says about it here:

Eminent Victorians 1918

Strachey pioneered a new form of biography that combined psychological insight with irreverence and wit, debunking Victorian myths of stiff upper lips and derring-do. In Eminent Victorians, he presents biographies of four legendary personages of the previous century: the self-serving Cardinal Manning, the unbearable Florence Nightingale, the didactic Thomas Arnold (272), and the imperialist General Gordon of Khartoum. The philosopher Bertrand Russell read the book in Brixton Prison and called it ‘brilliant, delicious, exquisitely civilised. […] I often laughed out loud in my cell while I was reading the book. The warder came to my cell to remind me that prison was a place of punishment.’

The underlining of “Thomas Arnold” means that one or more of his books are discussed here too, on page 272 in this case. I’m not interested in Thomas Arnold, but maybe I should be. There is a downside to owning lots of books: you can get lazy in your reading, choosing what you enjoy most or find easiest to absorb, giving up too soon on a book that seems difficult or unrewarding. Sometimes it’s good to have less choice or no choice at all. Or to choose at random. There are hundreds of Penguin books I’d like to own, but it would be better for me and my mind if I had to read one book at random for every one or two or three that I read because they appealed to me.

And what does appeal to me here? The foreign literature. Penguin have published texts from all over the world and all periods of history. The Penguin Classics series began with a best-selling edition of The Odyssey and has gone to include everything from Gilgamesh to Henrik Ibsen. French and other European literature looms largest, but behind them you can see the towering ranges of of Asian literature, especially the texts from the great civilizations of India and China:

THE UPANIṢADS 8th-5th centuries BCE

‘Upaniṣad’ means ‘sitting down near’. Each Upaniṣad presents a philosophical discourse with a seated guru, who imparts his esoteric wisdom about the meaning of the world. The first thirteen or ‘principal’ Upaniṣads form one of the foundational texts of Hinduism. Schopenhauer (348) called them ‘the production of the highest human wisdom’. The translator Juan Mascaró describes their spirit as ‘comparable with that of the New Testament’.

Tao te Ching 4th century BCE

Taoism sits beside Buddhism and Confucianism as one of the three great religions of China. It is based on the concept of the Tao, the ‘Way’, the universal source, pattern and substance of everything. Taoism differs from Confucianism in that it avoids ritual and hierarchy. The Tao te Ching provides practical advice for embracing the Tao through self-restraint and modesty.

Yes, it’s all in translation and the Penguin translations vary in quality, sometimes wildly. But even a bad translation is good in one way. It reminds you of the complexity of language and literature. Language is distilled thought. Sometimes it’s distilled as nectar and sometimes as acid. Literature can give you delight or dissolve your old ways of thinking. Sometimes, as in the work of Nietzsche, it can do both. You’ll find both delight and dissolution in the Penguin Classics. This history of the series is just delight.


Previously Pre-Posted on Papyrocentric Performativity

Mocking Manning — a review of Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (1918)

Bodies: Life and Death in Music, Ian Winwood (Faber 2022)

An interesting and eye-opening book. If you’re in a band, you’ll find it much easier to become a mental and physical wreck than to become a millionaire. Indeed, you’ll find it easier to become a mental and physical wreck than to earn a living. Ian Curtis, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse weren’t the average when they died so young and with so much promise unfulfilled, but they weren’t anomalies either. There is a lot of mental illness among rock musicians. And among rock journalists too. Ian Winwood has seen addiction from the inside. He’s drunk too much, snorted too much and chased sensation too much.

That’s why he tried to kill himself and ended up in a mental hospital. So when he writes about rock musicians who’ve trodden the same perilous path, he knows some of what they’re going through. But he doesn’t know performance from the inside and he admits his own complicity, as a journo, in wanting to hear and write stories about bad behavior and difficult lives. Maybe music attracts vulnerable people before piling the pressure on them. Or maybe music makes people vulnerable. The high of being on stage only lasts while you’re on stage. That must be part of why musicians pursue other highs when they’re off-stage.

But the more you chase chemical highs, the more you invite psychological lows. Winwood looks at that truism playing out with everyone from Metallica to Frank Turner. He has interesting stories to tell about them and interesting stories to tell about himself. Unfortunately, I found his prose tough at times. I was reminded of what Frank Zappa once said: “Rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, in order to provide articles for people who can’t read.” Winwood can write well sometimes, but he admits in the credits that he has “an occasionally distant relationship with the rules of grammar.” He’s thanking a copy-editor for saving him from himself when he says that, but there are still some spectacular hanging participles in the published book. This was the best, or worst, of them: “Amy [Winehouse] was taken from her place of death to a post-mortem at St Pancras Coroner’s Court. Required by Jewish law to be buried after three days, the gang at the morgue got a wriggle on.”

Pity the poor gang at the morgue, rushing to finish their work before they get popped in the ground. Alas, Winwood’s bad writing isn’t an anomaly in rock journalism either. A few journos like Alex Petridis write consistently well, but the pretentious Guardianista dreck at the Quietus is closer to the average. And Winwood is closer to the Quietus than to Petridis. Plus, Bodies doesn’t have an index. I read all of it and I learned a lot from it, but it could have been a lot better.

Doktor Deviant’s Diary of Depravity: Kandid Konfessions of a Kompulsive Korpse-Kopulator, ed. Dr David Kerekes and Samuel P. Salatta (Visceral Visions 2022)

Praise for Doktor Deviant’s Diary of Depravity

• “Doktor Deviant makes David Fuller look like Mary Poppins.” — Nancy Mailer
• “Fetid fakt or fukked-up fiktion? YOU decide!” — Zac Ziali
• “Dank, deplorable and disgusting. I delighted in it!” — Dr Miriam B. Stimbers
• “D                                                                              ” — David Slater
• “David Slater makes Doktor Deviant look like David Fuller.” — Philip Tatzenrott
• “Wow!” — Justin T. McGliverton
• “An extraordinary excursion into the darkest domains of death.” — Chibo Bassher
• “Headpress hits it outta da park again.” — Freddy Goragadescu
• “Maxed-out morbidity. Mmmmmmmmmm!” — Dr Mikita Brottman
• “David Kerekes makes David Slater look like Doktor Deviant.” — Roger Prendergast


Previously Pre-Posted on Papyrocentric Performativity…

Fuller Frontal — a review of Deviant. Devious. Depraved.: The Sickening, Slimy and Sizzlingly Septic Story of Noxiously Nasty Necrophile Nonce David Fuller, David Kerekes, with an introduction by David Slater (Visceral Visions 2022)

An Unexplained Death: The True Story of a Body at the Belvedere, Mikita Brottman (Canongate 2018)

This is the second Mikita-Brottman book I’ve tried and the second Mikita-Brottman book I’ve failed to finish. It’s a much better book than Crossing to Kill (2003), but that doesn’t make it any good. The title is uninspired and so is the book. If Mikita is as bland in person as she is in print, I’m not surprised by her complaint that she’s “invisible” to many people. They meet her, then fail to recognize her when they meet her again. Understandably, Mikita doesn’t like this, but there are worse things to suffer in life.

I spotted some of those worse things as I read the book. Or rather: I failed to spot them. Yes, there’s a deep unacknowledged irony at the heart of An Unexplained Death, because even as Mikita was complaining about her own invisibility and the erasure of her personhood, she was invisibilizing others and erasing their personhood.

And unlike privileged white Mikita, those invisibilized others lead genuinely difficult lives and suffer from genuine injustice. This book is about Mikita’s life in the luxurious Belvedere Hotel in an American city called Baltimore. Maybe you’ve heard of Baltimore? Ah, you have heard of it. And what does Baltimore mean to you? That’s right: Baltimore is world-famous both for the rich, vibrant culture of its Black community and for the suffering of that community, whose Black bodies are under 24/7/52 assault by the hegemonic forces of white racism and white supremacy.

Mikita Brottman has lived in the Black-majority city of Baltimore for over ten years. She has been surrounded by both the rich, vibrant culture of the Black community and the suffering of the Black community for every second of those more-than-ten-years – that’s more than 315,360,000 seconds. But does she deign to notice the slightest crumb of that Black culture or the slightest tear-drop of that Black suffering in this book about her more-than-ten-years in Baltimore? You guessed it: she doesn’t. Or at least, not that I saw in what I read of An Unexplained Death. I didn’t see her reference the Black community once. Not once. So one thing is for certain: she did not center the Black community in her book about Baltimore, as she would have done if she had any decency and compassion.

Instead, Mikita Brottman centered herself and her tony world of white privilege. It’s true that, yes, the “Unexplained Death” of the title references a Hispanic male, Rey O. Rivera, who died by falling from the roof of the Belvedere. But Rivera was a rich, white-adjacent Hispanic businessman. What about the many, many Black victims of “unexplained death” in Baltimore? Mikita obviously doesn’t care about them. She doesn’t identify with them and she can’t use them as a mirror for her own neuroses and self-obsessions. So can you wonder that I felt sickened to my stomach, repeatedly, as I read the book? I kept thinking to myself: “You ain’t a Mikita, baby: you’re a go’damn Karen.”

But even if I hadn’t been sickened by the book and its white-centered self-obsession, I wouldn’t have found it any easier to read. The main story, of Brottman’s search for the truth about Rivera’s death, just wasn’t interesting. Not to me, anyway. I found myself skipping forward to the digressions Brottman sprinkles through the book. She talks about everything from vultures and their unsavory thermoregulation techniques to how a mouse can survive a fall that would shatter a human being or liquefy a horse. Those were the best bits, for me, but they didn’t last long enough to rescue the book from its white-centeredness or redeem Brottman’s sickening invisibilization of Baltimore’s Black community.

I don’t think anything could ever redeem that. And inevitably I found myself comparing Miki with Miri. And Miki did not come well out of the comparison. What am I talking about and whom am I comparing with whom? I’m talking about Mikita Brottman and Miriam Stimbers, and I’m comparing the former with the latter. Mikita Brottman and Miriam Stimbers were both bright young Britishers from humble backgrounds who, by dint of sheer cerebral effort and dogged determination, won scholarships to study English Literature at Oxford University. First they did a BA, then they did an MA (probably), then they did a PhD, then they entered the wider world.

And it was now that both Mikita and Miriam faced the same stark and simple choice. Either they could embrace white supremacy, exploit their white privilege, and coast to success in terms of the literary world. Or they could oppose white supremacy, refuse to exploit their white privilege, and achieve success only and entirely on merit. I am afraid to say that Mikita chose the former course. Miriam, in complete contrast, chose the latter.

But it was not the first time that their life-trajectories had divagated in terms of core ethical dilemmas. During her time at Oxford, Mikita had written for Headpress, the journal of strangeness and esoterica overseen by committed counter-culturalist, proud Gypsy and unashamed gargoyle-fan David Kerekes. Miriam, however, had refused to write for Headpress, on the ground that Kezza, although a proud Gypsy and unashamed gargoyle-fan, was nevertheless a dim but devious adolescent voyeur, like a cross between a Daily-Mail reader and a necrophile.

In short, Miriam was prepared to take an ethical stand. Mikita was not. Sad to say, after she wrote for Headpress, Mikita’s embracement of white supremacy and ruthless exploitment of her white privilege came as no surprise to perceptive observers. Having moved to America, the headquarters of white supremacy, Mikita became the life-partner of a rich and successful white writer, acquired a well-connected white literary agent, and began to write acclaimed but underwhelming white-centered books like An Unexplained Death. But when Miriam moved to America, things were very different. In complete contrast to Mikita, Miriam became the life-partner of a member of the Black academic community, the proud Black-African Diasporan Dr Nigel M. Goldbaum, acquired a Black literary agent, Rebecca Rubinberg, and began to write masterpieces like Jane in Blood: Castration, Clitoridolatry and Communal Cannibalism in the Novels of Jane Austen (TransVisceral Books 2021).

But Miriam’s masterpieces have not enjoyed a tenth of the success nor received a hundredth of the exposure of Mikita’s mediocrities. Why not? It’s simple. Miriam is fighting white supremacy and rejecting her white privilege, rather then embracing white supremacy and exploiting the hell out of her white privilege. That’s for why. Mikita’s An Unexplained Death is a case in point. It has an uninspired title and it’s an uninspired book. But it’s been much more successful and been much more extravagantly praised than all of Miriam’s masterpieces put together. In the land of white supremacy, the Karen is Queen.


Previously Pre-Posted on Papyrocentric Performativity…

Cannibal HolocAusten — Miriam Stimbers and Rebecca Rubinberg interrogate issues around Jane in Blood: Castration, Clitoridolatry and Communal Cannibalism in the Novels of Jane Austen (2021)

Hu Thru Mu

The Musical Human: A History of Life on Earth, Michael Spitzer (Bloomsbury 2021)

I don’t know a lot about music: I just know what I like. Michael Spitzer does know a lot about music and he’s able to convey what he knows with enthusiasm and insight. This book is a good introduction to the astonishing variety and richness of the music made by human beings not just all over the world but all through time. And Spitzer looks at the sounds made by birds, bees and baleen whales too. Are they music?

Maybe. But what is music? What purposes does it serve? Those are some of the big questions Spitzer looks at. I liked the very interesting connections he made between walking and singing. You can find important elements of music all over the animal kingdom – crickets have rhythm, birds have melody, whales have development – but only human beings put them all together and create true music. Unlike our closest relatives, the apes and monkeys. Why is that? Why are we special? Spitzer suggests it’s connected to our bipedalism and our ability to walk. A piece of music is like a journey through a landscape.

I like that idea. But I was unsure about other things in the book. First, although Spitzer draws in many threads from many places, times and specialities, I don’t think he weaves them together satisfactorily. I’m not sure anyone could. The subject of music is too big and the reasons for making music may be too varied. As I read, the book began to taste like a stew that wasn’t fully cooked. It had a lot of delicious ingredients but they didn’t come together as one dish.

And the other thing I was unsure about was Spitzer’s nods towards Woke politics. It’s good that the nods were there, but I don’t think nodding is enough. Yes, he condemns the so-called western world and repeatedly calls out slavery, colonialism and other horrors visited by the so-called west on the so-called rest, but I’m afraid that, for me, it all had a perfunctory feel, as though Spitzer’s heart wasn’t truly in it. I’m sure I’m wrong and that, like me, he is indeed a keyly committed core component of the anti-racist community, but it would have been good to have more space in the book dedicated to issues around racism, sexism, transphobia and other core progressive topics.

The Power of Delight: A Lifetime in Literature: Essays 1962-2002, John Bayley (Duckworth 2005)

I didn’t try this book meaning to sneer at it. Honest. Although I do think that EngLit is a despicable, deplorable and downright disgusting subject, not everyone to study or teach the subject down the decades has been a bad writer and confused thinker. But the chances of finding good writing and clear thinking have got smaller and smaller down those decades. Paradoxically, as more and more women and Scholars of Color have enriched EngLit, standards of intellect and rigor have plummeted rather than soared. I can’t explain why this should be so, but I hoped John Bayley (1925-2015) might have escaped the mysterious deterioration. When this book was published, he was an old white man, not a young Black woman, so I hoped his writing might justify at least a bit of the hype on the back cover: “for decades [Bayley] has been known to readers the world over as perhaps the shrewdest and subtlest of literary critics. … The Power of Delight is a collection sure to become a benchmark of modern criticism.”

My hopes were dashed. Bayley is a bore and a bad writer. His writing isn’t sonorous but somniferous: plodding, platitudinous and prosy:

The act of liking or disliking a novelist can still seem a sudden intimacy: whether or not you get on is your own affair, and as used to be said, there is no accounting for tastes.

But it was not at all untypical of Turgenev.

As a child and young man Orwell had always had a bad chest and was in a condition later to be described by a doctor as pre-tubercular.

And amid the plodding, the platitudes and the prosiness, Bayley makes some big mistakes:

The most memorable scenes in [Nineteen Eighty-Four] are the delight a Victorian “snowstorm” paperweight gives to Winston and his girlfriend, and its destruction by the Thought Police … – “The Last Puritan: George Orwell (1903-1950)”, pgs. 96-7

It’s quite an achievement to misremember what you claim to be “the most memorable scenes” in a novel. First, the paperweight in Nineteen Eighty-Four contains a piece of red coral, not a “snowstorm” scene; second, Winston’s girlfriend Julia never shows any delight in it, only passing interest; third, when a thug under the command of the Thought Police destroys it, Orwell uses the delicacy of the coral to give a special poignancy to the destruction:

There was another crash. Someone had picked up the glass paperweight from the table and smashed it to pieces on the hearth-stone.

The fragment of coral, a tiny crinkle of pink like a sugar rosebud from a cake, rolled across the mat. How small, thought Winston, how small it always was! – Nineteen Eighty-Four, Book III, ch. 9

Either Bayley hadn’t read the novel for decades or he was getting forgetful: he was over 70 when he misremembered Orwell’s “most memorable scenes” in 2001 for the New York Review of Books. But why didn’t an editor or fact-checker spot the misremembering? Bad stuff.

And besides that cock-up, Bayley proved that Nineteen Eighty-Four wasn’t the only thing by Orwell that he’d long forgotten. In his essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946), Orwell condemns “staleness of imagery”, “lack of precision” and clumsy or contradictory metaphors. Here’s a brief example of how Bayley could combine all three with a magisterial hand:

[A]s in the case of D.H. Lawrence, not to mention so many geniuses of the first romantic period, tuberculosis and the arts can go hand in hand and can turn out to be the most productive of bedfellows.

Eh? How on earth can tuberculosis and the arts “go hand in hand”? Tuberculosis is a microbe or a set of symptoms; the arts are a wildly diverse set of cultural activities. But perhaps the mind-boggling task of growing and uniting suitable hands explains why these two entities then became “bedfellows”. They had to sleep off their evolutionary exertions. Sleeping is what bedfellows usually do, after all. But in that case, they’re not being “productive”, are they?

Bad stuff again. Later in the book, Bayley himself writes of “the dull pretentiousness of nine-tenths of the stuff that gets written nowadays about English Literature.” I wouldn’t call him pretentious, but he is dull and he isn’t a good writer. I was surprised to learn that he’d been at Eton, because I would have thought he’d’ve received a rigorous training in logic and language there. Obviously not. But then I can remember being surprised that Michael Holroyd, biographer of Lytton Strachey, had been at Eton too. Like Bayley, Holroyd is a bad and boring writer; like Holroyd’s, Bayley’s flaws seem worse by contrast with the genius of his subjects. I wanted to read and enjoy this book, because Bayley writes about a lot of important and interesting literary figures: everyone from Charles Dickens to Nikolai Gogol by way of Anthony Burgess and John Betjeman. But I couldn’t read it because I couldn’t enjoy the bad and boring writing.

Still, all this confirms my low opinion of EngLit: the rot was obviously there long before women and Scholars of Color parachuted in amid the smoke-and-mirrors being nailed to the mephitic mast of French theory. Success in the humanities, alas, does not depend on being able to write or think well, but on being able to play office politics well. Bayley must have been very good at office politics and at sucking up to the right people. In short, I’m not a Bayley-ver: he was a bore and a bad writer.


Elsewhere Other-Accessible…

• “Politics and the English Language” (1946) by George Orwell

Previously Pre-Posted on Papyrocentric Performativity…

Posturing Proctoglossist — discussion of Terry Eagleton, who makes Bayley read like Orwell

Mind the Gap — a review of Lytton Strachey: A Biography (1967) by Michael Holroyd

Chrome Tome

The Secret Lives of Colour, Kassia St Clair (John Murray 2018)

This book is going to be good, I thought when I picked it up. So good that I felt an urge to write a glowing review of it before I’d read it. After all, it was going to combine two of my favorite things: colors and words. Just by flicking through it I could see that. There were sections with titles like “Amaranth” and “Chrome Yellow” and “Magenta” and “Emerald” and “Vantablack”. And each page of a section had a broad stripe of the relevant color down one edge. Colors and words! I was going to enjoy the book a lot and it would be one of the best I’d ever read.

And I did enjoy the book a lot. OK, it wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be, but it easily passed the test I apply to everything I read. Do I want to read it again? Yes, I do. It’s an instructive and entertaining book. The story of color is also the story of culture and clothing. In recent centuries, it’s the story of chemistry too. I’ve found myself looking at classical art in a new way since finishing the book, because Kassia St Clair writes a lot about painters and their search to find and fix new colors on canvas. But there are no illustrations in this book: just black type on white paper and pure strips or spots of color. Well, at the beginning of each chapter, the names of the colors are printed in the colors themselves. It doesn’t look very good or feel very good in the brain. I like the colors and the words to be separate, like flowers and bees. The words should buzz around the colors, sipping their nectar but never exhausting it.

And sometimes words desert a color and buzz off to another: the shifts in color-vocabulary are interesting. But even more interesting are the expansion in color-vocabulary and the different ways different languages divide the spectrum. Color is one of the joys of life and this book is a joy to read.

AC/DC: The Story of the Original Monsters of Rock, Jerry Ewing (Carlton Books 2015)

Angus Young. Jim Morrison. Marilyn Monroe. What’s the connection? Believe it or not, they all had the same lover. And that lover was called the camera. Even casual photos of them can look good and at their best they seem to blaze off the page with show-biz magic. Jim and Marilyn died before being deserted by that lover, but Angus has been deserted before he’s died. As you’ll see in this book, he got old and bald and the camera stopped loving him. His clowning began to look contrived, not spontaneous, and the schoolboy’s uniform began to look sad, not scampish.

But the camera definitely loved him when he was young, as you’ll see again and again. That must have been an important part of what took AC/DC to the top: when would-be fans looked at Angus in magazines and on posters, they saw the youth, energy and fun of AC/DC. But the camera never loved Malcolm Young, his late brother and the rhythm-guitarist in the band. Malcolm looks positively half-witted in some of the photos, caught dull-eyed or slack-jawed on stage or strumming his guitar backstage. That too must have helped AC/DC to the top: Angus supplied the charisma and Malcolm the cretin-cred. I don’t think the camera liked Bon Scott much either. He was the original lead-singer and his charisma was in his voice and lyrics, not his looks. Well, when I say “original lead singer”: there were lead singers before Scott, but they don’t count. AC/DC wasn’t truly AC/DC before Scott. He added the charm and cleverness to the crunch of the music.

And AC/DC stopped being AC/DC after Scott. Brian Johnson, the new lead singer, doesn’t count either. He wrecked AC/DC, in my opinion. They became a zombie-band, an animated corpse that still performed and released records, but had lost its soul. I can’t imagine Bon Scott appearing on stage with a cannon the way Johnson does, because Scott was a rock’n’roller, not part of a circus-act. And where Scott took his lyrics from the street, Johnson took his from the lavatory-wall. But I was interested to read here that Johnson is half-Italian. And yes, once you know you can see it in his face. You can’t hear it in the music he’s collaborated on, though. Johnson doesn’t have the talent and inventiveness of the fully Italian Tony Iommi, lead guitarist in those other greats Black Sabbath.

He doesn’t have the vocal ability of Scott either. And certainly not the wit or the melancholy. Angus was loved by the camera for years after Scott died, but the soul of the band was gone. Jerry Ewing, the author of this book, won’t agree with that, of course. Nor will most of the readers. Most of AC/DC’s fans – maybe the vast majority – must date from the Johnson era and must like what Johnson turned the band into. After all, most of AC/DC’s fans are of average intelligence or below. AC/DC have never played cerebral music and they don’t attract deep thinkers. But at least the lyrics were intelligent when Scott was writing and performing them.

This book is intelligent too, offering a good mix of photos and text. First I leafed through it, then I read it. There are sections devoted to the various eras and albums of AC/DC and to the main people in the band, from the Young brothers to Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams by way of Scott and Johnson. You’ll get an overview, not deep insights, but there are no depths in AC/DC anyway, are there? Well, I think Scott sometimes supplied them. As Michael Hann pointed out in the Guardian: “What’s Next to the Moon?” is one of those rare AC/DC songs that sound mysterious. But there’s only one mystery in this book: that of how the camera can react so differently to two brothers. Again and again, Angus looks good, Malcolm looks gormless. Malcolm is dead now, but the cannonball corpse lumbers on.


Previously Pre-Posted on Papyrocentric Performativity

Bon and OffTwo Sides to Every Glory: AC/DC: The Complete Biography, Paul Stenning (2005)

GlasguitargangDog Eat Dog: A Story of Survival, Struggle and Triumph by the Man Who Put AC/DC on the World Stage, Michael Browning (2014)

Whole Lotta ScottHighway to Hell: The Life and Times of AC/DC Legend Bon Scott, Clinton Walker (2006)

Auto-BiommiIron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi with T.J. Lammers (2011)

Oasis: Supersonic: The Complete, Authorised and Uncut Interviews, curated by Simon Halfon (Nemperor 2021)

In alphabetical order, they run like this: the Clash; Guns’n’Roses; Oasis. Those are the three bands I hate most. I can split the toxic trio into a pair and a singleton in various ways. For example, I don’t like any of Guns’n’Roses’ songs, but I do like “Cigarettes and Alcohol” by Oasis and “Rock the Casbah” by the Clash. And while I dislike everyone in the Clash, it’s really only one person in Guns’n’Roses and Oasis that I dislike: Axl Rose and Liam Gallagher, respectively. The rest are okay once they’re out of the band and not directly associated with Axl or Liam any more.

This collection of interviews and photos did nothing to change my opinion of Liam Gallagher. I thought he was a half-witted tosser before I picked the book up and I think he’s a half-witted tosser now that I’ve put it down. Yes, he was good-looking, despite the wonky eye, but he walked and talked and acted like an ape. It was his more affable and intelligent brother Noel who actually looked like an ape. Or like a werewolf. Some of Noel’s photos from childhood make me wonder what his mother had been getting up to at the zoo before he was born. Those eyebrows, man! They’re genuinely disturbing. And I still don’t understand how the same label, Creation Records, could be home for both the apes of Oasis and the angels of My Bloody Valentine. It’s a bit like Motörhead and Mozart appearing on the same label. Not that I’m seriously comparing Motörhead with Oasis (or MBV with Mozart, for that matter). The comparison wouldn’t be fair, because Motörhead were a genuinely important and innovative band. Oasis were pub-rock with pretensions way above its station.

And when Motörhead released loud records, they were in heavy-metal quarantine and didn’t infect the rest of popular music. Oasis were central, maybe even instrumental, to the curse of compression, whereby records are squeezed into ever-tighter sonic jackets to sound bigger and bangier. Which they sometimes do, for a bit. Then they sound boringer. That’s the word that sums up Oasis and their music: boring. I said once that if I ever read a biography of Oasis, it would be strictly out of primatological interest. I’ve read very little of this book, but I have kept my word otherwise. It was primatological interest that brought me to it and all my dislike of Oasis was confirmed by it. Oasis were mediocre pub-rock with a chimp on lead vocals. If I push myself, I can get past the instinctive dislike and feel sympathy for Axl Rose, who had a bad childhood and still has a good brain. But can I feel chimpathy for the devil when it comes to Liam Gallagher? Fook off.